Please ensure Javascript is enabled for purposes of website accessibility

Improv comedy gets real at Florida Studio Theatre

FST's 13th annual Sarasota Improv Festival is taking the stage for the first time in three years.

2-Man No-Show will appear at the 13th annual Sarasota Improv Festival at 8 p.m. on July 21 and 6 p.m. on July 22.
2-Man No-Show will appear at the 13th annual Sarasota Improv Festival at 8 p.m. on July 21 and 6 p.m. on July 22.
Courtesy photo
  • Arts + Culture
  • Share

Florida Studio Theatre’s 13th annual Sarasota Improv Festival is taking the stage in the real world. The festival’s improv talents can hardly wait. 

The Sarasota Improv Festival is making a real-world comeback. No computer screens. No Zoom calls. We’re not joking — these improv artists will be. Live. On stage. At Florida Studio Theatre. The unscripted silliness returns from July 20-22.

Will Luera, FST’s director of improv, can hardly wait. After all, he’s been waiting for the last three years. That’s how long it’s been since the pandemic pulled the plug on live performances worldwide. A multitude of shows did not go on in 2020. The 12th annual Sarasota Improv Festival was online only. Then the months of isolation began.

Luera’s improv skills didn’t get rusty during that downtime. He got better as an improv artist. How?

“I performed online with FST’s extended family of improv troupes during the pandemic,” he explains. “PGraph, Dad’s Garage and a few other companies invited me to join them in several online shows.”

Luera also expanded his improv universe. His new online connections include both improv troupes and individual artists, like MC Hammersmith, this year’s festival headliner. “I’d met him before, but I was thrilled to actually perform with him online during COVID,” he says. “My appreciation for him grew exponentially.”

Thanks to virtual reality, Luera sharpened his skills and added to his network of improv talent. That definitely helped his job as an improv director. Planning the Sarasota Improv Festival’s return to reality has been a major part of that job. In close collaboration with FST Managing Director Rebecca Hopkins, Luera’s been working out the devilish details for the last two years.

Now the organizational heavy lifting is finally done, it's satisfying. But creating the festival isn’t where Luera’s heart’s at.

Luera’s not just an improv director. He’s also an improv artist. Performing on the festival stage is his heart’s desire. Luera longs to get real.

“Virtual improv is a clever workaround,” Luera says. “But it’s no substitute for performing for a live audience.”

That’s happening starting July 20.

Is Luera excited?

Yes. That’s the understatement of the year.

The festival’s improv artists feel the same holiday-morning electricity. Area improv fans feel it, too. Tickets are selling fast. With 22 live acts on stage, they’ll have lots of exciting choices.

Here are just a few highlights:

Orange Tuxedo

He and she. Love and marriage. In the Periodic Table of Comedy, the couple is a basic element. It’s been a source of hilarity since Nichols and May, Tracy and Hepburn and Adam and Eve. This L.A. duo (Carla and Craig Cackowski) is a real-life married couple. Their improv goes to town with a random audience suggestions. “They turn that note into strong characters and very strong stories,” Luera says. “It’s not the craziness of some improv acts. Their scenes are grounded in the realities of human relationships. They’re hilarious in their simplicity.” 7 p.m. July 21; 5 p.m. July 22.


MC Hammersmith
Courtesy photo

This UK export describes himself as “a middle-class Englishman from west London.” Depending on how you look at it, he’s a free-styling rapper who does improv comedy or an improv comic who does free-style rap. Either way, he’s funny as hell. When he isn’t belting out hip-hop lyrics, MC Hammersmith is a soft-spoken gentleman — with a strong resemblance to Daniel Radcliffe. Don’t be fooled, Dear Reader. His wit can sting. Like the best British comedy, it isn’t always gentle. 10 p.m. July 21; 9 p.m. July 22.

Big Bang
Courtesy photo

This Boston-based troupe gets a blast out of lightning-fast, free-form improv. They start with a premise and “follow the funny” from scene to scene with mad abandon. The company showcases big names from ImprovBoston and the Boston comedy scene. Luera is one of those names. He’s both the company’s director and a performer. “For me, this my home team,” he says. “We’ve taken Big Bang around the world, and I’m thrilled to bring it back to Sarasota.” 9 p.m. July 21; 6 p.m. July 22.


2-Man No-Show
Courtesy photo

Not all the clowns are in the circus. Case in point: Isaac Kessler and Ken Hall. This two-man Toronto team clowns around with japes, jest, pratfalls, physical comedy, metaphysical comedy, funny faces and rude noises. (They skip the red noses and whiteface makeup, so coulrophobics needn’t fear.) But a clown by any other name would be just as hilarious. These guys are. As far as we can tell, they’re not crying on the inside. But their “ClownProv” antics aren’t all funny business. Hall and Kessler tug at your heartstrings. You’ll laugh with them, not at them. But they will make you laugh. 8 p.m. July 21; 6 p.m. July 22.


Available Cupholders
Courtesy photo

This Austin ensemble don’t need no stinking script. They can do “Fakespeare” on their feet, spoof old TV shows, new TV shows, Japanese monster movies, you name it. But they’re not a pack of superficial show-offs. Their improv comedy is character-based, in The Second City tradition. “Their shows capture the silliness of improv,” Luera says. “They have so much fun pushing each others’ buttons and boundaries. They take it as far as they can go — and keep trying to take it further. They make the audience laugh; they make each other laugh. It’s the essence of the human comedy, and all you can do is laugh.” 8 p.m. July 21; 7 p.m. July 22.


All Play

In the art of theater, the play’s the thing. In the art of improv comedy, play is the thing. In the festival’s grand finale, the lunatics take charge of the asylum. Eighty or more improv artists pack the stage — and turn it into a giant playground for improv games, instant sketches and on-the-spot song parodies. These antic improvisers play around like a bunch of big kids. (And that’s exactly what they are.) They have far too much fun. And they’re insanely fun to watch. 10:30 p.m. July 22.



Marty Fugate

Marty Fugate is a writer, cartoonist and voiceover actor whose passions include art, architecture, performance, film, literature, politics and technology. As a freelance writer, he contributes to a variety of area publications, including the Observer, Sarasota Magazine and The Herald Tribune. His fiction includes sketch comedy, short stories and screenplays. “Cosmic Debris,” his latest anthology of short stories, is available on Amazon.

Latest News